Attention NCHC: Omaha is here

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

As we said last month, the Mavericks of Omaha are very much for real, their speed game is finally being complimented with consistent defense to allow the skill of their starting goaltender, Isaiah Saville, to shine through.

We will reintroduce most of the key players on this team with an excerpt from our preview of Omaha

As we wrote back in September in our NCHC preview for Steve Kournianos Draft Analyst on these Mavericks:

“The Mavericks display a free-flowing, up-tempo style that is at its best when it forces the opponent to defend on turnovers. Although they were hit hard with several key graduations on defense, the goaltending of starter Isaiah Saville (VGK 5th/2019) will play a critical role in whether or not Omaha can finish above .500 for the first time since 2016. Additionally, coach Mike Gabinet will ice two critical transfers in former North Dakota puck-moving defenseman Jonny Tychonick (OTT 2nd/2018) and ex-Michigan winger Jack Randl (2000). They will join a trio of top-scoring wingers in Tyler Weiss (COL 4th/2018)Taylor Ward (1998), and Kevin Conley (1997). Therefore, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem considering the notable transfers and returning firepower up front. It should be the Mavericks’ ability to limit the chances against, however, and minimizing the amount of energy Saville has to expend that could swing Omaha into one of its best finishes in recent team history.”

This team, and the players listed in this preview, are contenders for the Penrose Cup this season, full stop. Over his time this season, Taylor Ward has been one of the more impressive forwards in the country, leading his team with seven goals scored so far. Omaha plays a balanced game as eleven of it skaters are averaging at least a point every other game (.5 points per game or better).

Why does this matter?

Well take the Fighting Hawks, their opponent this weekend. Only eight of its skaters meet that same standard of depth. In addition, between the two teams, we see the better goaltender wearing whatever uniform Omaha will wear each night. Isaiah Saville is one of the more chronically underrated goaltenders in the country, let alone the NCHC. He comes into the weekend with nearly identical statistics to Adam Scheel, the likely starter for UND. The pair both have a .928 save percentage, and based on watching the two of them faceoff over their careers, Saville is the one more ready to move to the next level, now, not Scheel. It is harder to get a read on the impact of a goaltender like Scheel who has constantly played behind one of the best defenses in the country, than it is Saville. While Omaha’s defense has improved, helping with some of Saville’s improvement, it still relies on speed and breakaways more than teams like UND to get goals.

This opens up Saville to face more high-danger looks, an area where he showcases his superb lateral movement to make the play. When you play behind defenses like Scheel is used to being behind, you tend to not get a sense of what your own numbers mean. When you are the goalie on a team that is more up-tempo and can win regardless of a shot clock, well, you learn about your goalie pretty fast. The other area we see a sterling record from on Saville’s success is his rebound control. He typically makes the first save in a sequence and will concede a low quality chance, or none at all more than Scheel, who is prone to higher danger on his rebounds.

Back to the team in front of Saville, they are fast. We note this because this speed at high capacity is often tough to play against for teams like UND who prefer to play teams with one “big” line and shut them down through out working them. While you can outwork Omaha, most in this country, including UND, may have trouble outskating them. The Mavericks live on the edge a lot more than UND, but this year, for them, it is paying off with their strong 9-4-1 start against a conference full of teams that play similar styles to UND.

As we said last month, and will bring home here, noting this was written before the originally scheduled start to the NCHC season for UND was postponed:

“How this team plays UND this weekend and beyond in the second half will show how much these Mavericks have grown. How they can play the Fighting Hawks on back-to-back nights and what they do to agitate their system will once again serve as a model for other teams, and come tournament time will probably be used by coaches of other teams to pre-scout ways to beat them, or at least make their lives a bit more difficult on the ice.”

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